Mike and Doug Starn, identical twins born in New Jersey in 1961, were among the crop of young artists discovered in late-eighties New York who experienced phenomenal success, only to be forgotten by the larger artworld as galleries’ and curators’ interests moved from tactile, materially lush, visually seductive artwork to conceptual, digital and installation approaches. Still well-known in the photography community, Mike and Doug have quietly continued to pursue their uniquely painterly approach that combines materiality and metaphor. This month they have a show at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design’s Steele Gallery that features, appropriately enough, enlarged portraits of moths–those homely butterfly-like insects fatally drawn to artificial light.
In the Denver Post, Kyle Macmillan reports that the fragile little moths make surprisingly good subjects, rich both visually and metaphorically. “Because the adult life span of many species of moths is only a week or two, the unavoidable reality of mortality hangs over this exhibition and cannot help but prod viewers to contemplate their own limited existences. This, in turn, leads to a discussion of time, because it exists only as a function of mortality. Beyond the subject matter of these photographs, the very method of their creation and presentation speaks to this dynamic. Whatever else can be said about these moth portraits, they are not pretty pictures in any traditional sense, nor are they meant to be. The Starn brothers have eschewed conventional printing methods that would supply an impeccable, sharply registered image. Instead, they have printed the photographs by applying a light-sensitive emulsion to Thai mulberry paper. By the very nature of this shaky process, the resulting images have a streaked and faded look. They hark back to the salt-fixed ‘photogenic drawings’ of the 1830s by William Henry Fox Talbot and other early photographic essays, and that association is not accidental. Such a blurring of past and present reinforces the recurring theme of time….There is much talk in contemporary art about concept, and sometime’s it’s just that — talk. The subtly interwoven layers of meaning imbedded in these photographs show how compelling genuinely conceptual art can be. ” Read more.
“Mike and Doug Starn: Attracted to Light,” Steele Gallery, Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design